Dems inch toward House majority with recent court wins

Dems inch toward House majority with recent court wins

The fundamentals of the 2024 campaign are still taking shape, but one thing is already clear: A flurry of court actions might cost Republicans the House majority.

In the past nine days, state and federal judges threw out two congressional maps — and helped Democrats avoid a worst-case scenario in Ohio — kicking off an unusually busy redistricting calendar heading into the election year.

All told, a dozen or more seats across at least six states could be redrawn, increasing the likelihood Democrats could chip away the five-seat GOP House majority through redistricting alone.

Democrats could pick up an extra seat in each of a handful of states, including Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, and perhaps several more in New York. Republicans could still pick up as many as four seats in North Carolina, but the recent rulings put Democrats in a position to offset those losses — and then some.

Redistricting could not only give Democrats a slight edge in their bid to reclaim the majority they lost in 2022 but also increase the number of Black members in their conference. Prospective Democratic candidates in several key states are already eagerly eyeing a rare chance to run for a federal office, and the party is brimming with hope about growing its footprint in the South.

“It’s an incredible win,” Marina Jenkins, the head of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said of Alabama. “It’s an incredibly important moment.”

The court rulings and new maps coming in the next four months, she said, could determine the 2024 House map.

None of the new maps are final. Higher courts could reverse lower court rulings, especially in Florida. But the recent spate of decisions have swung the momentum toward Democrats, and party operatives have grown far more optimistic about their House map after the recent rulings.

A change in the composition of even just a few districts could have a huge effect. With Republicans’ majority resting on such a narrow margin, the fight to control the House is expected to once again be highly competitive next year, and Democrats are searching for every possible toehold to climb back to the top.

The most notable movement for Democrats has been in a region that’s fallen away from them: the South. Over the past week, courts overturned Republican-drawn maps in Alabama and Florida for weakening the power of Black voters.

Alabama Republicans had thumbed their noses at the federal court’s instructions to redraw a map that it ruled likely violated the Voting Rights Act. They drew a new map this summer with just one majority-Black district — in spite of the court’s instructions to draw a second. The judges threw out the new map last week.

The three-judge panel ruled that the Alabama legislature does not get “a second bite at the apple” and appointed an independent expert to draw new lines by Sept. 25. Alabama Republicans said they will appeal the ruling.

Southern Democrats are thrilled by the prospect of a new majority-Black seat.

The court-appointed expert could draw a new district uniting Montgomery and Mobile — something that has sparked interest from local legislators in both cities. State Rep. Napoleon Bracy Jr., state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures and state Sen. Kirk Hatcher are high on the list of potential contenders.

Another name to watch: Steven Reed, who was just reelected as Montgomery’s first Black mayor. During his mayoral run, he remained pointedly noncommittal on whether he would be interested in running for a new majority-Black district.

Florida Democrats hope to find themselves in a similar position.

A state judge ruled last weekend that the map pushed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution by limiting Black voters’ electoral power. The judge ordered the legislature to redraw the lines, though the state Supreme Court, with a majority of justices appointed by DeSantis, will have the final say.

If the map is redrawn similar to its pre-redistricting configuration, former Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.) said he would consider running to reclaim his old seat. He praised the courts for ruling in favor of more Black representation.

“Much of the political clout that we’ve had in those areas pretty much has been diluted by the courts,” Lawson said. “I think it’s good that the justices are now beginning to understand the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.”

Two other Southern states could also get new congressional maps that increase Black — and Democratic — representation in Congress. Georgia is in the midst of a federal trial that could help Democrats claw back a seat in the state. And arguments resume next month in a federal lawsuit in Louisiana that could add a second majority-Black district there.

Ambitious Democrats in Louisiana view Alabama’s case as a good sign. State Sen. Cleo Fields, who served in Congress in the 1990s, could be an early frontrunner for a new seat. Also on Democrats’ bench: Ted James, a local leader in the Small Business Administration, and state Sen. Katrina Jackson, a conservative Democrat who is in favor of restricting abortion rights.

It’s unclear, though, where mapmakers could add a second majority-Black seat or whether Democrats would have a strong advantage. And it’s possible the seat could be competitive, particularly if the incumbent is GOP Rep. Julia Letlow, who has widespread bipartisan appeal.

In Georgia, former Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, who lost reelection to fellow Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in a member-vs-member faceoff created by redistricting, would be interested in running if there were an appealing new seat, according to a person familiar with her thinking. Cobb County Commissioner Jerica Richardson already filed to run for a suburban Atlanta district in the hopes that it might be redrawn to favor Democrats.

Courts also helped Democrats avoid a worst-case scenario in Ohio last week, where it appears the map used for the 2022 election will remain in effect for 2024. Democratic-backed organizations and good government groups, who brought a case arguing the maps were partisan gerrymanders, asked the state Supreme Court to dismiss it because it would be too disruptive for the 2024 election.

On Thursday, the court agreed to their request, likely preserving a map that currently has 10 Republicans and five Democrats. That’s a win for Democrats: Three of them remain in battleground seats, but if the GOP got a chance for a more aggressive gerrymander, it could have obliterated at least two of those districts.

One national Republican, granted anonymity to speak candidly about party strategy, said Republicans are unlikely to redraw the map now because they have neither a court order nor the “political will” to do so.

But that Republican also described the ruling as a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats, because it is still ultimately a GOP-leaning map. “It gives us a chance to win with 12 or 13 seats,” the Republican said, as long as the party has stronger candidates than they did in the midterms.

GOP recruiters have been courting Jane Timken, who ran for Senate last year, to take on Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes. Timken’s decision will depend in part on redistricting, and she will now have to decide whether she is willing to run in a highly competitive swing seat.

The biggest prize for Democrats is New York, where they are hoping the courts will soon give them another crack at drawing the lines.

The current map was drawn by a court-appointed master after judges threw out a Democrat-drawn plan in 2022. The court-drawn lines were designed to create as many competitive districts as possible, and in a good Republican year in a blue state, the GOP won a whopping 11 of the state’s 26 districts.

Democrats argue they should be allowed to pick up the pen again rather than rely on the court-drawn maps for the remainder of the decade. If courts agree, Democrats could draw somewhere between 18 and 22 Democratic districts.

The spate of recent victories for Democrats are, however, still early.

There is likely a long, winding appeals process ahead of several of these lawsuits that could forestall any changes until after the 2024 election — if not outright overturn them. The current Supreme Court is still viewed as largely hostile to the Voting Rights Act, despite the surprise ruling in the Alabama case earlier this year.

And candidates still matter as well, with parties having to convert on-paper advantages into election wins.

Some of Democrats’ gains could also be tempered by a looming wipeout in North Carolina.

Republican lawmakers there got a green light from the state Supreme Court earlier this year to draw a new congressional map. A previous, liberal-leaning iteration of that court had instituted lines that resulted in a 7-7 partisan split. A new map is expected to come sometime between mid-September and the end of October, and it could endanger the districts of as many as four Democratic incumbents.

Sarah Ferris, Bill Mahoney and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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Author: By Zach Montellaro and Ally Mutnick